Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

Here at TV Dinner, there is a conscious effort made to not only feature shows that are immediately relevant, but also


In the Bowl Makes Up For Frustrating Alcatraz Excursion

Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

Here at TV Dinner, there is a conscious effort made to not only feature shows that are immediately relevant, but also to stray away from shows that look like they're going to collapse within the month. With scant exceptions, TV Dinner has strived to only look at shows that at least have a fighting chance into any lasting form of relevancy besides Highest Concept Mess of the Year. It's why I refused to look at shows like Work It or The Playboy Club, as obnoxiously satisfying as it'd be to pair either with Cowgirls Inc., these are shows that seem so singularly engineered towards failure that suspicions of elaborate tax fraud start to arise. That said, this week will take a look at the puzzling new FOX drama Alcatraz, which seems pretty thoroughly doomed from the beginning: but at least a special kind of doomed. It's the kind of failure that, given the right perspective, makes you appreciate the things that don't leave you with a tasteless, bloated feeling of disappointment -- for example, a spicy bowl of noodles from vegetarian Thai oasis In The Bowl.

The Cuisine: While there are plenty of great vegetarian places in Seattle and probably even more formidable Thai restaurants, Capitol Hill's In the Bowl probably comes out on top of the intersection. While the restaurant is strictly meatless, ItB offers a bountiful selection of animal-friendly replacement for Thai food protein standards.

Their fake chicken seemed to have even less flavor and consistency than the tofu, but both their fake beef and fake duck had a robustness to it that seemed almost convincing to a palate that had choked its way through more than its share of meat emulators. More important than convincing, they were delicious in their own right.

The humane meats can be added across a wide variety of presentations with either fried rice, noodles, soup or stir fry. My best experience came from their Spicy Coconut Milk Noodle with udon noodles and beef. Not only did the scorching hot bowl satisfy the baser starch-and-protein desires of a bachelor favorite, but it also had a well-balanced mix of fresh, sturdy vegetables that never reduced into a soggy, discouraging mess from any puddles of excess sauce.

To top it off, In the Bowl is also one of the noticeably few Seattle restaurants that will deliver vegetarian pot stickers, which definitely hold their own against any carnivorous alternative. These meatless godsends bear a consistently crunchy exterior draped over a warm, soft core that doesn't waste your time with cheap cabbage and other tasteless filler.

The Entertainment: After making a pretty damn watchable tribute to Steven Spielberg's filmography in 2010's Super 8, JJ Abrams also seems keen on replicating Spielberg's recent television career by adding a producer credit to as many unimpressive science fiction shows he can in between blockbusters.

Alcatraz is the latest installment in this dull trend, which makes no effort to hide its intentions of cashing in on Abrams' most lauded success Lost. Where other wooden , incoherent attempts to recapture the Lost magic failed, Alcatraz showed early promise by taking something from the original that audiences actually enjoyed: namely, Jorge Garcia, who most will remember as the fictional island's affable comic foil Hurley.

However, all is not as it seems as the formerly charismatic foil is plunked into the middle of a chaotic mess of extremely forced relationships and dialogue that is positively waterlogged with cliche. Say what you will about Lost's notoriously infuriating attitude towards not answering half of the questions it raises, it at least consistently presented an atmosphere of tension and forward momentum. It had a persistent tense atmosphere, jolted along by a sense of mortality for even the show's most beloved characters, and that draining atmosphere really required the presence of a man like Hurley, so it became really hard not to like Hurley or ever question his importance to the show.

Now, I'm not saying this to merit any attitudes that all Jorge Garcia roles should be compared against Hurley, but the show creators just seem a little too eager to get him to start talking excitedly about "the island," idly spout pop culture references, or just generally fail to create any sort of three-dimensional character out of Garcia's role on Alcatraz to have anything for the audience to identify with besides incidental facts about his hobbies and occupation.

Garcia really just don't have anything to latch on to. The show wants to retain some sort of clinical, procedural edge to the meat of the show so it can hang with fellow FOX darlings Bones and House, so Garcia now has to become some specialist that can pop up as a talking head through the show's "get all the episode's investigative crap out of the way in a single, breathless dialogue" scenes. The show decides "PhD in Criminal Justice who wrote a book on Alcatraz" is the best way to go with Garcia's character, but the show can't really seem to think of a single problem that couldn't just be solved by either reading his book or even some light Googling.

The main problem is that Garcia's humble, unwitting heroicism only really worked as well as it did on Lost because of the level of detail and high stakes set-up in the world his earnestness influenced. When you take away the drama of restraint, rush through the building of relationships between characters and eschew the gravity of a perilous situation in favor of more blurry gunfights, you take away the very importance of the type of character Jorge Garcia seems to be playing here.

Hurley's dry gallows humor and honest heart become more than just opportunities to punch up a flagging, monotonous script -- they were genuine qualifications that ended up as arguably just as important to the survival of the heroes as scholarly knowledge or physical prowess. In Alcatraz, it's (at least now) mostly all about badasses catching bad guys, which just doesn't leave a whole lot for Garcia to do.

Meanwhile, Sam Neill plays lead badass, a hard-nosed cop with a mysterious past (ugh) chasing after "The '63s" (who astonishingly bear no relation to The 4400 or The Nine), a crop of Alcatraz prisoners who mysteriously disappeared in 1963, only to reappear in present day unaged and with an insatiable need to murder people for some reason the show doesn't yet care to explain. He crosses paths with Garcia's character and a young, brash detective with a chip on her shoulder (played by up-and-comer Sarah Jones), who become partners after Jones' old partner is thrown off of a building by her grandfather/known Alcatraz Bad Guy.

You quickly begin to learn that this show hates giving the audience any piece of information about the overarching plot whatsoever without having to go through ten minutes of Neill grimacing and belittling everyone around him for "not being worthy of Alcatraz," which seems especially silly when you remember there's probably some middle school taking a field trip in the immediate vicinity. This doesn't help when, a mere two episodes deep, the show nosedives into oversentimentality for characters that the writers have taken pains not to tell you anything about for fear of ruining the show's contract-mandated stupid twist quota.

The Pairing: Alcatraz comes late in a long line of middling sci-fi dramas that ask for a lot of your attention and suspension of disbelief and provide very little in return by means of entertainment. Conversely, In the Bowl massages the vegetarian made weary by the animal product minefield that is your average take-out menu. If In the Bowl is a vegetarian's oasis, Alcatraz is the harsh, pitiless desert of mediocrity for the television viewer. Archer premieres tonight, watch that instead.

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